Incorporating Nutrition Education into Your Home Routine
Guest post by Melanie Marcus MA, RD
Nutrition and Health Communications, Dole Food Company
Engaging children in family meals at home is undeniably positive—it helps them maintain a healthy weight, achieve more success in school and even get more nutritious fruits and veggies in their diets! But what can parents do teach nutrition at home outside of eating meals together? Here are some suggestions.
Morning and Evening Bathroom Routine
Start by washing hands and explain that this is a way of washing away germs and bacteria to stay healthy. This is especially important if children still eat with their hands. You can also explain why we brush our teeth by reminding children that foods we eat may stick to our teeth, which can cause cavities and other dental problems in the future.
It’s easy to give kids “grabbable” snacks like crackers, chips, or cookies. Next time they grab for one of those, use a taste test or food critic activity to encourage eating something different. With culinary shows like Top Chef Kids and Kids Baking Championship becoming more popular on TV, this is a fun way for the kids in your house to feel “in charge,” express their opinions, and, more importantly, try a new food!
Some households have a play kitchen or toy food (or you can make your own with play dough or paper cut-outs). Use this as an opportunity to act out how to do things like make a salad, pop corn, set the table, peel a banana, or wash dishes. This helps very young children become more independent and learn to help when it comes to family mealtime.
Another activity that can work at home or at school is to make a sensory box (an empty tissue box works well for this). Simply place a couple fruits or vegetables inside the box and have children put their hand inside and try to guess what it is by feeling it. Experiment with unusual shapes or skins, such as bananas or kiwi.
Around the Kitchen
If you’re busy preparing a meal, it’s a great time to teach children of reading age how to review a recipe. Evaluating ingredients to learn how food transforms from raw to cooked helps kids learn cookery skills and helps them become more willing to try it! Children can also learn about portion sizes and test math skills if a recipe needs to be adjusted for a larger or smaller group.
Get kids involved in planning and making dinner by setting the rule that each food group must be represented on the plate. Give them a warm-up activity by asking them which food groups are found in family favorites like chicken soup, lasagna, or a casserole. Asking kids to guess which ingredients are used in these dishes and identifying which food group they belong to will help them understand food groups and balance.
From children’s books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Eat Your Colors to Little Chef and Who Eats What, there are plenty of books to choose from that reinforce healthy eating habits. Exposing children to fruits and vegetables outside of the kitchen is a subtle way to show that fruits and vegetables are part of everyday life and a normal thing to eat.